EMM Labs Vs Killer DAC


Hi Guys

I was over at a friends place today hearing the Killer DAC compared to an EMM Labs DAC on his Thiel 3 ways which were fed by an AR Ref 5 pre and some SS monoblocks I cant recall the name of, but they are evidently similar to the Arion 500's which was thought to be just a bit bass shy in comparison.

Anyway here is his view which will be followed by mine.

Have to say there's a lot to like about the Killer, except maybe the name which seems to rub people off the wrong way.

I was able to use Bill's Offramp to feed I2S to the Killer and AES to the EMM Labs XDS1 simultaneously and was able to A:B easily between the two using the ARC preamp.

The EMM does a lot of things right for me. But the Killer sounds more natural in the end. The XDS1 seems to exaggerate differences - higher highs and lower lows but the end result (which on its own doesn't sound bad to me) is less listenable to me than the Killer in the AB. I loved how the Killer reproduced guitars in Fourplay's 101 Eastbound (HD Tracks) which made it "easy" to follow. Where the XDS1 reproduced the music, the Killer sounded like it was an organised quartet led by the lead guitar, with the rest of band accompanying him. I really enjoyed that quality.

When we listened to the Phasure a while back, there was a similar disconnect - the Phasure reproduced voices like Pat Barber with a raspy or gravelly quality - was it more detail? I thought I heard that with Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now (DVDA rip) on the XDS1 today. The Killer was smoother but more natural. I've only heard Pat Barber once, in a club in Chicago many years ago and from memory, it seems to be somewhere in between. It wasn't quite buttery smooth, but it wasn't quite as gravelly as what I heard on the Phasure either. If I had to choose, I'd err on the side of the Killer.

When I first heard about the Killer, about how well it sounded with vocals, I can't say I was particularly keen to listen to it. I had written it off along with many warm syrupy slow Chinese tube amps I had heard int he past. But it wasn't the case. I even threw in a bit of Depeche Mode for good measure, along with FourPlay. Over the week, I am sure I can put it through the paces a bit more with some of my more familiar material.

If there is one downside, and actually it was more of a technicality, it was that we couldn't play hires material with it. But when we were playing HD Tracks material, even with the OffRamp downsampling to 44.1, the characteristics I liked about the Killer were still apparent, even when compared to the material in native hires on the XDS1. Maybe there is something to be said about hold outs like georgehifi Wink who insist 16/44.1 is good enough.

I concur with what was said above..

On all material we tried to me the EMM Labs had a 'thick' quality - things were distinct but lacked subtlety and realism. The Killer was simply much more convincing.

I did a comparison a couple of days ago against the current PDX. Previously I preferred the Killer but the PDX didn't have the best valves, which are the Phillips SQ. This time it had the SQ valves and it was a lot closer. However I still preferred the Killer. The vocals were just so real, layered and harmonically convincing. The PDX was slightly bland in comparison, but on some material such as Sade - Smooth Operator it was definitely more alive - but was that some kind of false edge - I don't know - I preferred it personally - but there was the Killers vocals - which was for me more entrancing.

The GTG between the Killer, Phasure, AMR and new PDX should prove very interesting.

Thanks
Bill
bhobba
You know Bill, around 24 years ago, I owned Sony and Philips CD players with TDA1541, and they sounded so great that I continued playing with those D/A converting chips until recent. However, the TDA1541 has been far outperformed by newer D/A converters, but this is irrelevant.

The truth is in the implementation. In other words, the truth is in the "allowed budget".

Above said, in my opinion, it is inappropriate comparing no-budget-all-hand-made boutique to a machine-made serial products.

Just my 2 cents, as usual. :-)

Best wishes,
Alex Peychev
APL Hi-Fi, Ltd.
Hi Alex

Interesting view.

The EMM cost $25k - the Killer $5.5k.

In my experience commercial stuff usually (but not always) cant stand up to boutique stuff like the Killer - and the boutique stuff, interestingly is often cheaper.

As you would know however its all how it sounds and our reaction to it.

I am always happy to lend my stuff out. Rest assured there will will be posts where its reversed - the Killer being the one the Phasure or whatever bests.

Thanks
Bill
Hi Bill,

Fair enough; we share similar views.

Just like you, I am always willing to lend my gear, whenever possible.

If someday there is a chance, I'd be very interested to hear your opinion about my reference APL DSD-M D/A converter.

Best wishes,
Alex Peychev
Hi Alex

Sure - if there is some way I can get a hold of one will be happy to do it.

Would even arrange a GTG to check it out.

Thanks
Bill
I guess in the interest of clarity, I need to qualify some of the comments made here.

I am the owner of the EMM Labs XDS1 SACD player and the Killer DAC was tested in my system - Audio Research Reference 5 SE, Electrocompaniet Nemos, Thiel CS3.7 with SS2.2 smart subs (with S1 Integrator).

Theres no denying that the Killer is exceptionally great to listen to. But as I have stated elsewhere, this is just a matter of preference, rather than one DAC "killing"/"murdering" another :)

The Killer has the uncanny ability to highlight a lead component of the music - a saxophone, a guitar or the lead singer and the rest of the instruments sorta flows around it. There's a good sense of rhythm and the presentation is like a leader of a trio or quartet being in the spotlight, and being backed by the rest of his band.

All this has a small price IMHO. I believe the Killer does roll off the highs and lows, so the XDS1 showed a room bass node that the Killer did not. And with the Thiels, the highs can sound a bit crashy with the added detail of the XDS1. And where the XDS1 (and the Playback) shines is IMHO with the detail retrieval. I find myself being able to make out all the different instruments and layers and vocals in complex arrangements which can sometimes be an excellent revelation.

In my system, I did prefer the way the Killer sounded with the genres of music I threw at it, but it is also with the understanding that it is not quite completely neutral in its presentation. I do understand where the Killer's designer is coming from.
I believe the Killer does roll off the highs and lows, so the XDS1 showed a room bass node that the Killer did not.

I believe it - it sounds like a NOS D/A converter. :-)

Seems to me there are two solid camps of audiophiles:

1. Would like to hear a nice and lush midrange and don't really care about highs and bass.

2. Would like to have bottom and top extension + extreme dynamics and resolution, while sacrificing richness in the mids.

Though in many cases, as one of my best friends put it, we are talking about "Addition By Subtraction", in my opinion, none of the above is something I'd tolerate. I want it all.

Unfortunately, this is very hard to accomplish, but not impossible. :-)

Best wishes,
Alex Peychev
Alex I think you just had a contradiction in terms.

The only compromise I made was using the XDS1 with an Audio Research Ref5SE tube preamp to get the extension and midrange/soundstage
Alex I think you just had a contradiction in terms.

The only compromise I made was using the XDS1 with an Audio Research Ref5SE tube preamp to get the extension and midrange/soundstage

Well, with 150 Ohm unbalanced or 300 Ohm balanced, the XDS1 can drive any preamp or a power amp to the moon. This said, introducing the AR Ref5SE to your setup, in my opinion, gives a coloration that is not only suitable for your taste but also being synergistic to your audio system.

So yes, while the tube preamp can provide the "missing link", it is something that "compensates" for your source, meaning, your source has a tad more to be wished for - in your case the AR preamp.

Above said, there is no contradiction. :-)

Best wishes,
Alex Peychev
Except the XDS1 is a DSD DAC and there is no proper way to do digital volume control in DSD space.

I think I've invariably found that adding a preamp to the system can provide improvements - it doesn't have to be solid state. I've heard the Ayre KX-R before on a similar system to mine and the improvements in soundstage are also apparent.

Whether you go the ARC route or the Ayre route really depends on what you want to sacrifice. The Ayre provides that last smidgen of detail and dynamics but loses out in terms of sound stage depth and height plus that bit of midrange lushness.
Except the XDS1 is a DSD DAC and there is no proper way to do digital volume control in DSD space

True, however, you can use a number of passive attenuators that the XDS1 can drive with ease. But you'd really like that added coloration/lushness from the ARC. There is no way out. :-)

I think I've invariably found that adding a preamp to the system can provide improvements - it doesn't have to be solid state. I've heard the Ayre KX-R before on a similar system to mine and the improvements in soundstage are also apparent.

Of course it does not have to be solid state, simply because it cannot compensate for your source. :-)

Whether you go the ARC route or the Ayre route really depends on what you want to sacrifice. The Ayre provides that last smidgen of detail and dynamics but loses out in terms of sound stage depth and height plus that bit of midrange lushness

Without any doubt, and being well aware with how both your source and preamp are built, I totally agree that the ARC will give you this "extra" you need with the XDS1.

As I stated in the beginning, it is all about synergy. :-)

Best wishes,
Alex Peychev
Doggiehowser wrote:
'Theres no denying that the Killer is exceptionally great to listen to. But as I have stated elsewhere, this is just a matter of preference, rather than one DAC "killing"/"murdering" another :)'

I can confirm this from some more careful listening sessions done out our way between a new DAC being developed and the Killer.

The Killer does something to vocals and the midrange that is simply divine - its not dripping in honey euphonics, and actually reveals detail - but its there. On certain material I preferred the new DAC, and on others the Killer. It varies with the material, listener, and probably the system as well. But most of the material I listen to is old fart vocally stuff like Peggy Lee - Fever and the killer really seems to shine on that.

Thanks
Bill
I have used passive preamps before and I think you are mistaken if you think it doesn't colour the sound. You have to read up a bit more on the Ayre volume control topology. That from what I have read and what I have read appears to be the best to do volume control.
I have used passive preamps before and I think you are mistaken if you think it doesn't colour the sound.

When it comes to passive attenuation, the only coloration comes from inferior switching or potentiometers. If resistor ladder is used, the quality of the resistors is very important too. But that is the only coloration you get. :-)

You have to read up a bit more on the Ayre volume control topology.

Oh, I have read about it. Charles has done a good job on it, and the idea is great. However, I don't really like mechanical switches, simply because I could hear them.

That from what I have read and what I have read appears to be the best to do volume control.

Okay, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. As I've mentioned, I do hear mechanical switches/potentiometers, so I use other type of devices and non-magnetic resistors for my attenuators. :-)

Best wishes,
Alex Peychev
The problem is that the changing impedance levels of a passive preamp can cause coloration. That's why they usually seem to lack dynamics at lower listening levels. The Ayre sounds excellent at any volume level.

FWIW The mechanical switch on the Ayre only comes online to change the volume, then it is silent again. In fact, it is adjustable on a per input basis so theoretically you never need to change the volume again after you've set it to the right levels for each component that you normally listen to.
The problem is that the changing impedance levels of a passive preamp can cause coloration. That's why they usually seem to lack dynamics at lower listening levels. The Ayre sounds excellent at any volume level.

True, however, with such a low output impedance of your source, and using a high impedance amplifier, the coloration should be minimal. It always depends on the implementation, of course.

FWIW The mechanical switch on the Ayre only comes online to change the volume, then it is silent again. In fact, it is adjustable on a per input basis so theoretically you never need to change the volume again after you've set it to the right levels for each component that you normally listen to.

Maybe I wasn't clear enough. When I said "I hear them" it meant that I could hear the added coloration coming from a mechanical switch. It does not matter how well and expensive the actual contacts of the switch are. This said, I use switching devices that do not have mechanical contacts.

Best wishes,
Alex
I haven't heard your preamp so I can't comment on it but my experience with a number of passive preamps is that the variable resistance does present a coloration at different volume levels.
Interesting thread.

So in summary the Killer DAC is a tone control rolling off highs and lows to massage the sound into something that tickles some listeners ears?

In doing this the killer DAC losses incisiveness, resolution and dynamic abilities but gains a pleasing richness and harmonic realism in mid-range presentation.

Would that be a fair summary?
I haven't heard your preamp so I can't comment on it but my experience with a number of passive preamps is that the variable resistance does present a coloration at different volume levels.

I don't really have a preamp, it is more like a type of a hybrid integrated amplifier, made of three pieces, called HAS-M where the attenuator is built with non-mechanical contact devices and non-magnetic resistors. Interestingly enough, I don't hear negative effects of the variable resistance. Of course, the input resistance is constant. :-)

Best wishes,
Alex Peychev
'So in summary the Killer DAC is a tone control rolling off highs and lows to massage the sound into something that tickles some listeners ears?

In doing this the killer DAC losses incisiveness, resolution and dynamic abilities but gains a pleasing richness and harmonic realism in mid-range presentation.'

No - its much more subtle that that - that's a reasonable summary of what it sounds like - but the reason is a lot more subtle.

Its got to do with the Phillip's chip used, the fact its NOS, and the way it been tuned.

The midrange sounds very palpable, real live and present. Bass is good, but against some other DAC's maybe slightly rubbery and one note. It lacks a bit of life and bite, again compared to some other DAC's.

But on the right material it simply sounds divine.

There has been a number of listening tests out our way with it against the DAC that won a shoot-out both were at - the new PDX. Many people, like me, prefer the Killer on midrange material like Peggy Lee and Cranky Franky. On other material such as Lenoard Cohen - its the PDX. It comes down to the material you predominately listen to - and of course system synergies.

Thanks
Bill
Hello Bill,

Greetings from Korea. I've been following your posts on the Killer and PDX dacs.

I'm interested in the Killer and was wondering if you can provide details on the maker's contact info for order and purchase. BTW, are there any pics and website for this dac?

Many thanks,
Kenny